The screening information for Walking Merchandise was announced today by the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

Sunday, August 12, 2012
12:00 p.m. (noon)
The Vets (formerly VMA Arts & Cultural Center)
1 Avenue of the Arts
Providence, RI 02903

For more information, visit the RIIFF site: http://riff.festivalgenius.com/2012/films/walkingmerchandisechildtraffickingandthesnakeheadtrade_ethandowning_riff2012 
 
We are happy announce that Walking Merchandise has been officially accepted to the 2012 Rhode Island International Film Festival. This is an enormous step for the film, and we are very pleased to share this news with everyone who has supported the project along the way.  Thank you for helping us make this film and spread the word about child trafficking.
Rhode Island International Film Festival (August 7 - 12, 2012) is a prestigious film festival held in Providence, RI, and is an Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences qualifying event. RIIFF Website
 
Among the best outcomes of this project so far have been the connections that we have been able to make with, and at times among, persons who are working to advocate for and/or represent the children who have been smuggled and trafficked here from China.

Last summer, attorney Julie To contacted us to ask about screening the film for a call-for-volunteers event with the Asian Pacific American Bar Association and Kids in Need of Defense. While we had not yet completed filming, we were able to send along a set of clips for the event. We kept in touch, and in January, we interviewed Julie and other persons working on these issues in Los Angeles.

Julie is one of many lawyers in the United States that are representing immigrant minors through KIND on a pro bono basis. Like many others, she juggles a committed full-time work schedule with the demands of working a complex immigration case. It's not an easy task, but through efforts like this throughout the country, differences are being made in the lives of children who have come unaccompanied to the United States.

For the children trafficked from China, legal permission to remain in the United States presents an opportunity for them to step out of the shadows of the restaurant circuit, get an education, and ultimately, contribute to the society that has given them a fighting chance.

In the following video, Julie discusses some of the personal challenges involved in working these cases, and her own hopes for her client's future in the United States.

 
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This past Saturday, we gave a presentation at the Church Center for the United Nations for a United Methodist Women seminar on human trafficking. United Methodist Women is a faith based group of approximately 800,000 members, whose mission is "fostering spiritual growth, developing leaders and advocating for justice" (UMW website).

On a regular basis, members attend United Methodist Seminars on National and International Affairs in both New York City and Washington, D.C. The seminars explore topics selected by the participants from among a range of social justice issues, such as poverty, immigration, and the environment. The participants for this past weekend's seminar came from churches in New York and Connecticut, and had expressed interest in learning more about human trafficking.

As part of our presentation, we showed the trailer and selected interview excerpts, and provided an overview of the snakehead trade. The presentation was followed by a lively Q&A session that revolved around both questions of how this system of trafficking works, and how individuals could make a difference in the lives of these young persons.

It was a great privilege to talk with this group of persons truly committed to taking action, and effecting positive change in the world. We're extremely thankful for their time it speaking with us, and for Seminar Designer Jay Godfrey's work in bringing us in to participate.
 
While undocumented immigrant children face the same removal proceedings as adults, some conditions of their lives do drastically change on the day that they turn 18.

If an undocumented minor has been detained while crossing the border, they may spend time in a shelter with other young persons while their immigration case is being processed. Should they turn 18 during this time, on the morning of their birthday, they will be removed from the shelter, and placed into an adult detention facility.

Chinese minors sent through snakeheads, or other immigrant children who have been brought to the United States without their parents, may be eligible for a form of legal relief known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, or SIJS. Should their case meet certain criteria, they may be granted permission to remain in the U.S. legally.

They can no longer apply once they turn either 18 or 21, depending on state laws.

Challenges such as these are not faced by Chinese immigrant youth alone.

We recently had the chance to check out the feature-length documentary Papers: Stories of Undocumented Youth. The young persons in the film have grown up in the U.S. since childhood or infancy, only to come to the age of 18 with no legal status, no work permit, and no place other than America that they have ever called home.

Like unaccompanied Chinese minors who have been unable to gain legal status through SIJS or other forms of relief, they face the prospect of deportation, or a life in the shadows, waiting for an unwelcome hard knock on the front door, with no path to citizenship open to them.

Check out their trailer below, and visit their site to find out about the film, and the ways in which the youth whom they have interviewed have attempted to gain control over their futures in America.

 
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The "story wall" has grown since late March, with each added card representing another interview excerpt, b-roll shot or graphic.

The photo included here is as much for blogging and facebook purposes as it is for our own records- should, for whatever reason, all the cards fall off the wall, there's enough detail in the photo to tell us what went where.

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As of today, we've completed an initial first pass, but there's still about a week's worth of work to be done in developing various sections.
The information posted on the wall will be typed up into a script format. This will then be the blueprint for the rough assembly edit.



 
"In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration."

United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is a United Nations treaty establishing human rights standards for the treatment and development of children. It recognizes that "people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not" and lays out basic human rights standards as applicable to children (Convention on the Rights of the Child website).

Immigration proceedings in the United States do not have legal provisions offering special care and protection for children. Children face the same courts and judges as adults, and similarly, they have no right to counsel at government expense.

The Immigrant Child Advocacy Project (ICAP) pairs Child Advocates with children in immigration proceedings. A Child Advocate has many duties, among which are providing support for the child, helping them obtain proper legal representation, and advocating for the child's best interests according to the standards provided for in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In the following interview excerpt, ICAP Director and Founder Maria Woltjen discusses the origins of the Child Advocate role, and Child Advocates' many duties as they assist children in immigration proceedings.

 
"He worked six days a week, his friends said, often in 12-hour shifts. Mr. Wang quickly fell into a grueling routine, his life pared down to its simplest components..."

Bus Crash in the Bronx Ends a Man's Fight for His Family
New York Times
by Kirk Semple and Jeffrey E. Singer
March 21, 2011

Earlier this month, 15 persons were killed when their bus overturned on I-95. The bus was traveling from Connecticut's Mohegan Sun casino to New York City's Chinatown. Many of the passengers were Chinese immigrants.

The New York Times published an article about the life of one of the passengers, Mr. Wang Jianhua. Wang emigrated from China in 2008, and had been working "six days a week...often in 12-hour shifts" to pay off his snakehead debt, and support his wife and children in China.

"Juliet", a Chinese youth interviewed last year, described her own working life with the same words that Semple and Singer used to describe Wang's in their article:

"work, eat, sleep, work, eat sleep."

Juliet was able to leave the restaurant circuit, however, countless others are less fortunate.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families of this terrible accident, as well as with those persons working in similar conditions across the country.

Click here to read the complete New York Times article.

 
The Immigrant Child Advocacy Project (ICAP), based in Chicago, IL, works with unaccompanied immigrant minors staying in shelters in the Chicago area. This includes children who have been smuggled to the U.S. through snakeheads.

While the children are often anxious for a life outside of the shelters, once they leave and begin work on the restaurant circuit, they are nonetheless bound by their debt.

Here, ICAP child advocate Jajah Wu discusses how the children's upbringing may at times constrain their abilities to imagine better, freer futures for themselves.
 
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Over the past year, we'd approached structuring the film number of different ways, from an essay-like structure explaining each aspect of the snakehead trade and the young persons' lives once they arrived, to a more sparse outline with brief examples and discussions of each point.

We found that our preferred approach is to hone in our focus to follow the stories of the children, from their home life in China, to their journeys across the world, to their life in the United States and hopes for the future. Complemented by the conversations we had with their lawyers, advocates, and with experts in the field, we believe this provides the most thorough picture of this story, and the challenges that these children face.

After reviewing all of the footage, we've started to build the framework for what will eventually be the "script" of the documentary. 
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All the way to the left, on the white cards, are the headers for the various sections of the film in order (up to down). Right of each section is a sequence of index cards representing segments of interviews in the order that we plan to cut them into the film (the order only, of course, as it had been determined at time of this writing). Under some of the cards are slips of blue index cards, with descriptions of B-Roll, graphics, or archival footage that we would like to play under the interview segments. It's been a long road in getting here, but we hope to get this board filled in the next few weeks, and then move into editing.